Nothing nags like a headache. Sometimes referred to as “brain pain of the highest magnitude,” 9 out of 10 people will experience a headache this year. And nearly 50 million people will push through their days dealing with chronic headache pain. Physicians report headaches as the number one medical complaint, and they run millions of dollars of tests in search of causes.
The good news is that headaches only indicate severe disease in a very small percentage of patients. If you are dealing with frequent or severe headaches, you should definitely seek evaluation with your physician. Sometimes there is an apparent cause, and other times there is not. Ideally, treatment should target more than symptoms. The steady use of pain medication creates side effects that may include kidney damage, for example.
While headaches result from many causes, five categories describe the majority of them:
1. Tension Headaches
Approximately 90% of headaches stem from jaw and neck muscles. This includes the broad temporalis muscle that attaches to the lower jaw and fans out on the sides of the head. Moderate to severe pain can broadcast into sites beyond the muscles, including around the eyes.
2. Migraine Headaches
These intense headaches generally occur on one side and can include nausea and sensitivity to light and noise. Lasting anywhere from a few hours to 3 days, migraines develop when the Trigeminal nerve becomes irritated and triggers a chemical release that results in throbbing pain. The Trigeminal nerve innervates blood vessels and brain lining, and can become stimulated by dental-related problems such as TMJ disorders and teeth grinding.
3. Sinus Headaches
Sinus spaces in your forehead, cheekbones and behind the bridge of your noses are lined with mucosa. Sometimes this lining becomes inflamed and irritated and radiates discomfort into the head. If sinuses are unable to drain due to blockage, you’re likely to have an infection and accompanying fever in many cases. Your physician can often determine if your sinuses are to blame for headaches.
4. Cluster Headaches
These intense headaches often arrive with little warning, and derive their name from the grouping of several episodes in a short period. Vascular in nature, cluster headaches only afflict about 1% of the population and usually occur on one side or the other.
5. TMJ Headaches
The most misunderstood of all headaches, TMJ headaches often mimic the other four types. Most physicians have little understanding of the most complex joint in the body, the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and the associated muscles. At least twenty classifications of Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD) are recognized, yet rarely explored in the medical community. This broad category of acute and chronic pain conditions deserves thorough exploration if you’re suffering from headaches. The findings might change your life.
Dr. Hill’s specialized training in TMJ and TMD allows him to explore possible causes of head and neck pain often overlooked in other settings.